West End Square transforms a former parking lot into a contemporary park, set within the historic district in Dallas. The project’s brief called for a community-oriented park that incorporates smart technologies in direct response to the district’s recent rebranding as an innovation district. At the same time, the design vocabulary of the park had to respond to and integrate with the district’s historic character and distinct material palette.
The result is a flexible park with varied programming that physically blends in with its historic context while discretely incorporating smart technologies that optimize maintenance, promote sustainability, and enhance the visitor experience.
Architizer chatted with Isabel Castilla, Principal at James Corner Field Operations, to learn more about this project.
Architizer: What inspired the initial concept for your design?
Isabel Castilla: The concept behind West End Square’s design is concentrated around maximizing its small 0.75-acre footprint by creating two distinct environments. The park’s edges seamlessly extend from the neighborhood’s sidewalks into the park. A variety of actively programmed spaces, including the Porch with swings, the Game Room, the Outdoor Workroom, and an exhibition space called the Innovation Arcade, are all housed underneath a U-shaped trellis. The trellis creates a social and active threshold that complements the site’s urban context. The park’s interior, in contrast, is a lush garden. The organically shaped planting beds are sculpted and planted with a palette inspired by the Texas Blackland Prairies. Seating nooks are carved into the planting beds and provide a variety of social seating arrangements. Combined with a cooling water feature, the garden provides an intimate space for respite.
This project won in the 10th Annual A+Awards! What do you believe are the standout components that made your project win?
The Frame is the jewel of the project. Its detailing is inspired by the architecture of loading dock canopies that characterize the district, yet it is simple, elegant, and contemporary. The Frame serves multiple purposes, as it provides shade for the social spaces situated beneath, supports cooling fans and playful swings, and serves as a structural armature for the park’s systems, including its primary lighting, electrical outlets, and Wi-Fi antennas. As a result of its multi-functional design and careful technology integration the Frame is the only vertically oriented built element within the park. This, in turn, maximizes the presence of the garden’s rich collection of trees.
What was the greatest design challenge you faced during the project, and how did you navigate it?
The greatest design challenge was to narrow down the many types of technologies we might incorporate into this project, taking into consideration its modest budget, maintenance capacity, and overall impact. After extensive consideration with our clients—the nonprofit organization Parks for Downtown Dallas and the City of Dallas Park and Recreation Department, in addition to other close stakeholders that include the Dallas Innovation Alliance and Downtown Dallas Inc.—we selected a combination of technologies to address key project goals. These include smart technologies that facilitate maintenance and operations while reducing energy and water consumption, ie. smart lighting and irrigation systems, weather sensors that automatically adjust fan and water feature modes that contribute to climatic comfort, as well as elements that support the park’s various uses.
How did the context of your project — environmental, social or cultural — influence your design?
As a result of public input meetings with stakeholders, West End Square is programmed to meet the community’s needs with a trifold approach to work, play, and relaxation. We needed to incorporate a certain amount of flexibility to make all this work together, allowing the park to host big events while accommodating everyday visits as a neighborhood park.
Design features reinforce the park’s edges, creating connections between the park and its surroundings. Along the lively Market Street edge, the Innovation Arcade expands community programming opportunities, and seating steps and a small stage on the eastern side support programming. At the northwest corner, the Game Room invites local workers to come in and take a break. Since opening, the park has become a community anchor, hosting frequent events, that include salsa dancing classes, art installations, and local vendor markets.
How important was sustainability as a design criteria as you worked on this project?
Sustainability played an important role in the overall design for West End Square, influencing the Frame, planting palette, and selection of the project’s materials and smart systems.
The Frame minimizes heat gain in a place where the urban heat effect is significant and provides a shade canopy for a comfortable outdoor workroom. This combines with trees planted on site to significantly cool the average air temperature in West End Square. Planting selections for the park are native or adaptive with low water use. Many of the plants are butterfly pollinators and insect attractors, which strengthen plant diversity and food sources.
The smart irrigation system, with a weather sensor and self-regulation, allows for more efficient use of resources and adjusts to the park’s needs. The Water Table incorporates three different modes, which are triggered by a wind sensor on the trellis columns.
Is there anything else important you’d like to share about this project?
According to a 2022 report by Parks for Downtown Dallas and the University of Texas at Arlington, the vegetation and tree canopy at West End Square reduced the average air temperature on a typical summer day by an average of 11.0ºF in the morning and 8.1ºF in the afternoon when compared with an adjacent site with similar hardscape materials, but no vegetation or tree canopy. The same study found that West End Square’s 44 trees sequester 0.2 metric tons of atmospheric carbon and intercept approximately 1,462 gallons of stormwater runoff annually.
James Corner, RLA (Design Director), Isabel Castilla (Principal-in-Charge), Stephanie Ulrich (Project Manager / Lead Designer), Kate Rodgers (Project Designer), Todd Lewis (Construction Administration), Mike Abate (Construction Administration)
Pacheco Koch (Civil & Traffic Engineering), Datum Rios (Structural Engineering), HLB Lighting Design (Lighting Design), Purdy-McGuire, Inc. (MEP Engineering), Datacom Design Group (Communications), Greenscape Pump Services (Water Feature Consultant), Jeffrey L. Bruce & Co., LLC (Soils & Irrigation), Order (Signage & Wayfinding), Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden (Horticulture), The Beck Group (Contractor)
Products / Materials
QMF Steel (trellis structure), Canopy Solutions, LLC (trellis louvers), Streetlife (benches, seating steps, circular platforms, swings, worktable, bike racks), mmcité (trashcans), Most Dependable Fountains (drinking fountains), Fermob (movable tables and chairs), Whitacre Greer (brick pavers), Santa & Cole / Landscape Forms (mast lights), General Electrical (historic streetlights), Ligman (trellis lights, bollard lights), BK Lighting (tree uplights), Big Ass Fans (fans), KwikBoost (wireless chargers at worktable), Weathermatic Smart Controller (irrigation controller)
For more on West End Square, please visit the in-depth project page on Architizer.